An Australian mother of four who is dying from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma recently made a heartfelt plea to the beleaguered building materials company James Hardie: “Just do the right thing.”
The woman, whose first name is Serafina and who asked that her last name not be disclosed, is just 39 years old. She is one of many mesothelioma patients who is seeking compensation for her disease, but she may be out of luck, as James Hardie’s $1.8 billion (AU) fund for victims of asbestos diseases is also running out. The corporate giant is being bailed out temporarily by the Australian Federal Government, which has dumped over $150 million into the fund, in order to prevent Hardie from delaying payments or paying victims in installments, which they claim would be unfair. Serafina, for example, requires a full lump-sum payout of her compensation package, in order to hire a nanny to take care of their children while her husband nurses her and works full time. James Hardie has long been under fire for its manufacture of asbestos-containing building products, as well as its attempts to sidestep responsibility for paying into the damages fund. In the past, it has also relocated its corporate headquarters in a bid to receive tax benefits.
Asbestos was long considered a nearly miraculous product, due to its unique qualities of fire- and heat-resistance, strength, durability, and ability to be mixed into concrete, plastics, metals and other building materials. It can even be spun into yarn or woven into fabric. Nevertheless, this utility obscured a deadly toxin. When asbestos-containing materials are destroyed or damaged, they can release into the surrounding air a carcinogenic particulate, which people can then breathe in. Asbestos leads to a number of illnesses, including mesothelioma – a rare but very serious cancer which affects the thin membranous lining of the chest cavity and lungs. Mesothelioma may not manifest itself until decades after the asbestos exposure, and it is particularly resistant to treatment for a number of reasons. Serafina believes she was exposed to asbestos during home renovations, during which she used James Hardie products.